MV Swell by Jeff Reynolds

MV Swell

88-foot Converted Tug Swell

Swell is a beautiful, classic, converted tugboat. She accommodates up to 12 guests in 6 private cabins, all with full en-suite heads (bathrooms with showers), and a crew of 5.

Ship Layout

Technical Specifications

  • Private cabins: 6
  • Private ensuites: All cabins
  • Max guests: 12 
  • Salon and lounge areas: 3 plus wheelhouse
  • Shore boats: 2 Polaris rigid hull inflatable boats
  • Kayaks: 4
  • Hot tub: 1
  • Length over all: 88 feet
  • Beam: 22 feet
  • Propulsion: Diesel engine
  • Watermaker: 3600 gallons per day
  • Cruising speed: 7 to 10 knots
  • Registration: Canada
  • Year built: 1912 (rebuilds 1950s, 1980s, a $3.5 million refit in 2004)
  • Where built: Vancouver, B.C., Canada
  • Style of ship: Tugboat


Interior and Accommodations

An Elegant Expedition Ship

The gorgeous Swell is spacious with amenities offered by no other ship on the coast in her class.

Her $4 million in refits transformed her from a powerhouse working tugboat to a comfortable passenger vessel.

The renovations kept the warm character of her classic wooden construction, and each cabin is panelled with natural wood.


Swell’s large, wood-panelled salon is a relaxing place to read or play a quiet game, watch the chart of the coast, check the day’s schedule, or learn from the naturalist and crew.

It’s also set up as the dining lounge for meals. Snacks, tea, coffee and juice are served on the buffet bar.


In Swell’s beautiful galley, your chef prepares three meals and two snacks a day.

The chefs pride themselves on the variety and beauty of their meals. They can accommodate most dietary needs with advance notice.


Aft Deck Lounge, Main Deck

Aft deck main by Jeff ReynoldsWith 360 degrees of access to the Main Deck of Swell you will find ample space to view the scenery from and even enjoy a relaxing retreat on the aft deck lounge. An enclosed space protected from the elements and windows to take in the view, the aft deck is a great place to relax, enjoy others’ company, or dive into a good book.  


WheelhouseA classic wheelhouse with stunning lines, excellent views, and comfortable seats. Join your Captain in the wheelhouse to learn some of the ship’s navigation systems, or don a pair of binoculars and become a wildlife spotter on the look out for whales, marine mammals, and unique bird life. 

Aft Deck Lounge, Upper Deck

Upper aft deckYou can walk 360 degrees around both the lower and upper decks. Up top on the bow, take in the smells, sounds and beauty of the ship’s incredible wilderness route, one of the best places for whale watching and wildlife spotting. Relax in the aft deck lounge where comforts await: a settee for lounging on, and our open-air, semi-covered hot tub.  As we cruise along, enjoy the sights from the warmth of the hot tub, including whales and rainbows.


Category 3

Largest cabins

Cedar cabinCedar

Outside door, opening portholes.

Large private, 3-piece ensuite head.

Natural light.

Small boat queen sized bed, which is half-way between a double and a queen (75.5” x 57”).

Walls on three sides of bed.

Storage in tall, slim cupboard, various drawers, one shelf and small entry shelf.

120 sq. ft.


Douglas Fir CabinDouglas Fir

Outside door, opening portholes.

Large, 3-piece private ensuite head.

Natural light.

Small boat queen sized bed, which is half-way between a double and a queen (75.5” x 57”). Walls on two sides of bed.

Storage in tall, slim cupboard, various drawers, shelves.

120 sq. ft.

Category 2

Mid-size cabins

Arbutus CabinArbutus

Outside door, opening porthole.

Private ensuite head, separate washbasin area.

Natural light.

Upper and lower singles (see below).

Storage in three small cupboards, two large drawers below lower bunk and two shelves and a desk.

80 sq. ft.


Sitka Spruce CabinSitka Spruce

Outside door, opening porthole.

Large, 3-piece private ensuite head.

Natural light, skylight.

Angled boat double beds (approx 79” x 52”, narrower at feet). These are comfortable beds for two people used to sleeping together and don’t mind their feet near each other. Not for people who wish to sleep well separated from their partner. Luxurious for a single paying a single supplement.

Storage in three small drawers, two cubbyholes under bed, and three shelves, plus cupboard in head.

80 sq. ft.


Western Hemlock

Outside door, opening porthole.

Large, 3-piece private ensuite head.

Natural light, skylight.

Angled boat double beds (approx 79” x 52”, narrower at feet). These are comfortable beds for two people used to sleeping together and don’t mind their feet near each other. Not for people who wish to sleep well separated from their partner. Luxurious for a single paying a single supplement.

Storage in three small drawers, two cubbyholes under bed, and three shelves, plus cupboard in head.

80 sq. ft.

Category 1

Smallest cabin

Red Alder

Outside door, opening portholes.

Private ensuite head, separate washbasin area.

Natural light, skylight.

Two up and down small, extra-long single beds (79.5” x 30”).

Storage in tall cupboard with shelves, small under-sink cupboard, under bed.

57 sq. ft.






Shore Boats, Kayaks, and Other Equipment

We tow two Polaris rigid-hull, inflatable boats — very reliable and sturdy shore boats. These zodiac-style boats give you ample space and great access to enjoy an explore along shorelines, up rivers, at wildlife colonies, and onto beaches. 

While at anchor, enjoy one of our four single kayaks. Our Delta 10s are sleek, 10-foot single kayaks made from thermoform plastic. They are light and agile. With a clear window in the floor of them, you can even paddle near shore and see through your kayak to the ocean critters below!

Aboard Swell we have fishing rods and lures ready for jigging for licensed anglers. Obtain your sports fishing licence online and take a turn at jigging for halibut or lingcod. Our chefs are delighted to cook your catch and serve it to you at dinner. 

Our zodiacs are stocked with mini-aquariums and other tools for (safely) examining intertidal life. The ship also has many guidebooks for the local flora and fauna and visual aids for understanding big picture concepts or phenomena. The ship also has a hydrophone for listening to whales. This underwater microphone plays the sounds of the sea over the deck, including the clicks and calls of whales.


What Else You Need to Know About Travelling Aboard

On Swell's foredeck Hot tub

Authentic Tugboat

The Swell is an authentic, coastal tugboat. She’s the real deal. Her small size and ruggedness, combined with our special access permits and incredibly knowledgeable and well-connected crew, give you an unparalleled experience.

Human Scale

You have access to sites, phenomena and people you cannot get on larger ships, which are often banned from the special areas we take you. What’s more, you have access to this in a very personalized, human-scale manner. You are not a sheep to be herded around — you are our special guest. Plus, you have a full ship for just you and a few other guests.

Quiet and/or Social Time

With a small number of thoughtful guests, you can choose to have your own quiet time or engage with your fellow guests and your expert guides.

Being Clear About Your Needs for Cabin Size

The cabins are beautifully and lovingly decorated, but they are not hotel rooms. They are authentic, small boat cabins. This means the beds are non-standard sizes (described above) but are very comfortable. There are door sills to step over to enter each cabin. This does mean that you need to step aboard without thinking of cabins as hotel rooms, but rather as cozy cabins on a real heritage ship.

Cabins on the Swell are between 57 square feet and 120 square feet. However, you also will be on deck, on shore, in the salon, or in the wheelhouse for much of the day — spaces that are also uncrowded, elegant and welcoming.

Soft Adventure Travel

This is a trip with a sense of adventure. We take you to spectacular and interesting places that are still intact naturally and culturally. This means that typical North American urban amenities like internet connectivity, roads and pavement, and massive transportation systems generally do not exist. We are experts at planning and operating wonderful trips. The logistical complexity behind a trip is incredible, but we hope you never notice it due to everything running smoothly.

It does mean that we may change the plans for a day because an interesting opportunity for you arose, or wildlife appeared, or we decided to take you to a different area one day because the weather made that the better option. There are new discoveries to be made on every trip – a new individual whale we haven’t encountered before, a new species never seen before, a new cove never explored before, an amazing new person encountered.

The discoveries keep the trip exciting for everyone and are inspirational moments along the general plan of the trip we are unfolding for you. If you are used to trips where every minute is scheduled weeks in advance, this may seem at first an unusual way to travel. We ask that you trust that your expert crew and guides know exactly where to take you and use their knowledge and experience to choose the right moment for every highlight that is planned for the trip. If you have any questions about this, please feel free to contact us.

Physical Eligibility

You need to be able to step over a six-inch (upper deck) to one-foot high (main deck) door sill to enter and exit your cabin.

You need to be able to step into a zodiac (with assistance) from the ship, and up from the floor of the zodiac back onto the ship.

Ashore, you need to be able to get out of a zodiac on a beach with no docks. This involves sitting on the side of the pontoon, swinging your legs over the side, and standing up, with someone lending you a hand.

Ashore, you need to be able to walk along uneven shoreline.

There is a regular staircase from the main deck (where the salon and zodiac loading is, as well as two of the cabins) and the upper deck (where the wheelhouse and upper deck cabins are).

History of the Tugboat Swell

The Swell is one of British Columbia’s most historic ships. Her classic tugboat frame has pulled the materials that created some of BC’s major ports, and has been featured in a national television drama.

1912: The Swell is Born

Swell was built in Vancouver, BC, by Arthur Moscrop, in 1912. 1912 was a booming year for the economy of the new Canadian settlements on the coast. Victoria, thimg92e oldest city, had been around in one form or another since the 1840s, and Vancouver since more recently. (Before that, the site of Victoria was used for millenia by Coast Salish communities.) While Victoria had once been the only centre of commerce, once Vancouver was established it swiftly gained on, and then overtook, Victoria. Still, in 1912, buildings were going up at a huge pace in the city of Victoria, a boom that lasted until the outbreak of World War I, 2 years later. Swell was purpose built for the Victoria Tug Company, incorporated by George McGregor and Capt. Dan McPherson in August 1912. The Swell was their new, coal-fired steam tug. She was launched with an 18 horsepower steam engine. She complemented the two tugs that Victoria Tug Company already had — the Sadie (b. 1892) and the Spray (b. 1907). Of the company’s eight tugboats, the Swell is the only one still working. [Incidentally, steam power became popular in the 1800s as a reliable way to move ships that formerly were dependent on the wind for propulsion.]img93

1912 to 1954: Coal-Fired Steam Tug of the Coast

She’s had a varied history in more than a century on the BC coast, and has touched the lives of hundreds of people. A mere mention of her in a local newspaper generates emails and phone calls from people who worked on her or whose family members worked on her. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of owning a historic vessel. Aboard-Swell-1930 Aboard Swell in 1930. Charles Scholls and Dan Mullen. Her tow-loads have included the full variety of things that get moved by water — and on a coastline with few roads and thousands of islands, eventually almost everything gets moved by water: coal, wood, metal, machinery, acid… the list goes on. Some notable loads include towing a scow-load of steel from Seattle, WA all the way up to Prince Rupert, BC in 1928 (a busy port near the Alaska border) for the shipyard there. She was in and out of Klemtu, on BC’s central coast, as well during those years.

1954 to 2004: Diesel Tug, TV Star and Changing Times

In 1954, Swell’s power was converted to a 400 horsepower diesel engine. During this period of her life, Swell spent much time on the south coast of British Columbia, particularly in the southern Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island area.swell-1962e-victoria-courtesy-mmbc-1024x808 In 1959, Island Tug and Barge acquired Victoria Tug Co and ITB continued to operate the Swell until 1972. They sold her to Thomas Stockdill and Paul Stenner (later Thomas Stockdill and Robert Genn) who used her as a yacht for seven years. During this time, Swell starred in an episode of the CBC’s popular primetime show The Beachcombers. The episode, airing in October 1974, was called The Swell! In it, Jesse decides to run off and join the crew of The Swell. In a wonderful serendipity, three weeks after we learned of the Beachcombers episode, and about 1 hour after Maple Leaf Adventures’ maiden voyage on the Swell, former owner Paul Stenner found the ship and Kevin Smith on the dock at Van Isle Marina in Sidney, BC. Paul handed Kevin a copy of the Beachcombers show, which we have now on board, and brought us a painting of Swell that artist Robert Genn made. This painting now hangs proudly in her wheelhouse. Subsequently, Paul also sent us a copy of this painting  that Robert Genn made of the Swell in Alaska, where we are taking her again on our expedition cruises. From 1979 to 2004, Swell became a working tugboat again.

Swell in Powell River (1980)

2004 to present: Swell Is Reborn As a Passenger Vessel

In 2004, the Swell underwent a $3.5 million refit. The refit was lovingly done by her then-owner Big Time Sport Fishing, and the coastal tradespeople and shipwrights who worked on her. The shipwrights, Spiller Boats, are also coincidentally the shipwrights who do work for our other ship the SV Maple Leaf. In 2014-5, Maple Leaf Adventures augmented that refit with a small refit to make her a greener, more energy efficient ship, as well as to improve the interior space design, alter some cabins, and give her decor an update. Her maiden voyage as a boutique expedition ship was April 16-20, 2015 in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve / Salish Sea area of southern BC. The voyage began with a blessing ceremony in which three honourary godmothers (Penelakut elder Florence James, conservationist Vicky Husband, and shareholder and teacher Diane Hackett) blessed the ship, and Maple Leaf Adventures president Kevin Smith, under the direction of elder Florence James, struck the ship four times with a cedar bough and then Capt. Alex Ruur fastened it to the ship’s bow. This cedar bough continues to travel with her until it falls off. As of June 18 in Haida Gwaii, the bough was still attached. With our thanks to the following people for information, stories or photographs of Swell’s history: Bob Spearing, Rick Senkler, the Maritime Museum of BC, Michael Kaehn, Josephine Bohemier, William Allan, Greg Evans.